There’s a lot of history behind the phrase “innocent until proven guilty” – a history that takes us back to a time before there was such a place as America, to England.
Now, years later, America purports herself to be the land of the free and the home of the brave. In our American mythology/hegemony, we socialize our citizens to believe that America was founded, in part, because the Puritans were experiencing a great deal of religious intolerance at the hands of an unsympathetic king in England. This king would detain his own citizens without charging them with a crime, sometimes subjecting them to cruel and unusual punishments.
These brave pigment-challenged Puritans abandoned England because their religion was considered radical, a deviation from the religious norm. And so, these unhappy white pilgrims came to America hoping to found a society in which the ideals and beliefs of all would be welcomed as a collective part of humanity; a society where many of the norms would be considered deviations from the normalcy of their former homeland.
Yet, like many oppressed peoples, the Puritans soon became the oppressors of many different peoples. It began with the mass assassination/relocation/assimilation of Native Americans, continued with enslavement of Africans, and continues today with the general marginalization of all people of color in America. If the light history shines on America’s past is any indication, it seems America’s forefathers never wished to create the society their idealistic doctrine implied, but rather they subconsciously desired to create a social order in which they were in charge so they could impose their ideas on others. Naturally, this behavior was socialized in their children and their children’s children until we ended up with our current society – full of inequalities and double standards. A society in which the judges (the media) issue a death sentence for any deviation from the norm.
Who better to swing from society’s gallows than one of our biggest American norm-deviators, Michael Jackson: a black man who has some of the best-selling albums and singles in the history of recorded music. Michael Jackson’s behavior has often been described as erratic, largely due to his love of animals (giraffes, monkeys and llamas), children, and what some may characterize as his unhealthy fixation with his appearance.
Because of these deviations, which some characterize as sickening, the media and society-at-large seek to take Michael Jackson down because he represents a threat to the status quo. After all, we can’t have the children of the world idolizing a black man who wears makeup and grabs his crotch while he dances – paranoid ethno-supremacist war-mongers make much better role-models.
And so, when allegations were made that, if proven true, would characterize Jackson as a pedophile, the media put aside the question of culpability, assumed guilt and attacked a performer who could be innocent. As a member of the media, this is a norm that I characterize as sickening.
Apparently the American axiom “innocent until proven guilty” has become a victim of the judicial debauchery that sensationalized journalism has created.
In truth, the media knows nothing about Jackson’s case beyond what is in the public record – one mug shot and a 10-year-old affidavit for Jackson’s previous molestation case which was settled out of court and therefore irrelevant. The countless hours of speculation and interviews of people who have no specific details of this case are useless and only serve to tarnish Jackson’s reputation. (Think Salem witch trials – “I saw Michael Jackson with the devil!”)
A puritanical society may have been acceptable for the 15th century, but it’s time for our moral anachronisms concerning norms to cease. We must remember that norms are defined as a way of doing things, not the way of doing things.]]>